Alana and Joe Mazza left Yorkshire four years ago to open their Italian luxury boutique B&B. Stephanie Smith and her sister Justine tried their cookery masterclass.
A newly married young Italian woman cooked for her husband a leg of lamb which she cracked in half to roast and present at table. “Why do you do that?” her husband asked. “I don’t know. My mother’s always done it,” she said. The next week, they went to the young wife’s mother’s for a meal. The mother cooked a leg of lamb, again cracked in half. “Why do you do that?” the young husband asked. “ Mother used to do it,” she said. Mother – the young woman’s grandmother –happened to be there. “So, why do you crack the leg?” the young man asked her. “Well,” she said, “my oven was so small, I had to crack it to get it in.”
This is one of Joe Mazza’s many anecdotes as he hosts and translates at the Casale San Pietro Italian Cookery Master Class. He tells the tale to illustrate the variations found in Italian cooking – and show how random the reasons for those variations often are.
Set on a tranquil hillside overlooking its own olive groves, Casale San Pietro is a beautiful boutique bed and breakfast hotel in rural Lazio, a lesser-known but lovely part of Italy just 50 minutes from Rome. Built some 300 years ago as a farmhouse, it had been a restaurant when Alana and Joe Mazza bought it, leaving behind their home in Holmfirth and their successful careers (Alana was retail director of Hobbs, Joe had his own hairdressing salons). They have transformed the Casale into an impressive luxury agriturismo with six en-suite, balconied bedrooms and suites. Outside there’s a new swimming pool, terraces a-plenty, gardens, a bar, a hillside spa spot, and those olive groves.
The Casale is also becoming known for its themed short breaks. On the calendar for 2020 are cookery masterclasses, yoga retreats, a Learn Italian course, a tour of the gardens of Italy, a walking holiday and olive harvesting.
Earlier this summer, my sister Justine and I became students at the Italian Cookery Masterclass, which takes place in the Casale’s restaurant-standard kitchen, under the instruction and care of Liugia, Anna and Pina. All three are skilled Italian cooks specialising in the local dishes of Lazio. They speak little English so Joe translates. His Italian vocabulary, he says, is that of a 10-year-old, his age when he moved from Italy to the UK. Joe, it has to be said, does not always stay on-message, deviating, for example, to tell us how his mother would have made certain dishes (Liugia, Anna and Pina understand enough English to know to roll their eyes). For our jam tarts, he encouraged us and our fellow students (we numbered 10 in total) to be creative with the lid design, and we were (pastry twirls, swirls and balls). Our teachers, sadly, had been hoping for neat latticework. We were forgiven, eventually.
The dishes are hearty but subtle in flavour. For starters we made battered and fried acacia flowers and courgette flowers, while mains included aubergines with parmesan and escalopes with lemon or wine. Sweet delicacies included a crumble of ricotta and dark chocolate and ciambelline al vino rosso (biscuits made with red wine).
Carbonara is a speciality, says Alana, “but of course only ever with penne pasta, so the eggs and bacon have somewhere to sit”. Then there’s Pina’s tiramisu and the Casale’s own wild asparagus, which makes a delicious pasta with a little peperoncino (dried chilli flakes).
The masterclass runs for nine hours split into three three-hour sessions. All the recipes (about 12-14) are presented to each pupil in a small booklet and you also get to keep your Casale San Pietro apron. It’s a lot of cooking but hugely enjoyable, very funny, and a great way to make friends quickly. We cooked in pairs and the supervision was so excellent that we all managed to turn out some delicious dishes (although I suspect that Justine and I were not the star bakers).
The food we made became our lunches and dinners each day, so it was economical. Breakfasts, prepared by the hosts, are a Casale speciality and take place in the Long Room where a table is laden with local cheeses, cured meats, breads, fruits, yoghurts and Alana’s olive cake. The Long Room is the Casale’s main indoor living and dining room, with doors out to the terrace and a cosy library/bar area full of books, DVDs, wine and more. As with the bedrooms, everything looks as if it has stepped off the pages of World of Interiors.
In our free time, there was swimming, chatting and driving. Lazio offers spectacular countryside, dotted with fascinating old towns including Anagni, Fiuggi, Alatri and Acuto. Joe can chauffeur and give guided excursions. Justine and I had hired a Fiat 500 so we pootled off to nearby Fumone, a hilltop village of hidden corners. We also chilled at the Casale, and had a facial with therapist Serena who uses products by Harrogate’s Neom Organics.
Dinners on the terrace were relaxed, like a house party. Joe and Alana are the best of hosts. Excellent food, wine and company in a heavenly setting. Just some of so many reasons to return.
* Casale San Pietro is at Anagni Località San Phillippo Italy; email email@example.com; visit www.casalespietro.com
The 2020 Cookery Masterclasses include three nights bed and breakfast, three three-hour masterclasses (on Thursday afternoon, Friday and Saturday morning), light lunch and three course dinner, enjoying what you have cooked. The first runs March 12-15 and costs from €399 per person, based on two people sharing. The second masterclass runs May 14-17 and costs from €440 per person, based on two people sharing.